Fondly remembered for her beautiful, long brown hair and trademark sarong, Dorothy Lamour was an important player for Paramount Pictures in the 1940s. She is best known for her performances in the “Road” films (Road To Bali, Road To Hong Kong, Road To Morocco, Road To Rio, Road To Singapore, Road To Utopia and Road To Zanzibar), which she costarred in with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton was born on December 10, 1914 in New Orleans, Louisiana to Carmen and John Slaton. Her parent’s marriage lasted only a few years, but Carmen later remarried Clarence Lambour, and Dorothy took his last name. The marriage also ended in divorce when Dorothy was a teenager.
Her career in the spotlight began in 1931, when she was crowned “Miss New Orleans.” Dorothy was interested in becoming a singer, and after the contest she headed to Chicago on the last of her winnings. Dorothy’s talent soon landed her a job as the female vocalist for the Herbie Kay Band. She dropped the “b” in Lambour to create her stage name of Dorothy Lamour. Dreams of making it big in the entertainment business led her to New York, where she began singing with Rudy Vallee and Eddie Duchin. In 1934, Dorothy was hired as a radio singer on “The Dreamer of Songs” program.
Romance eventually developed between Dorothy and Herbie, and they were married in 1935. That same year, she met Metro Goldwyn Mayer head Louis B. Mayer while she was singing in a nightclub. Mayer felt she had a certain spark, and arranged for her to have a screen test. However the screen test was lost and Dorothy would need to do another if she were still interested in acting. In the meantime, she met Jack Votion, the head of talent at Paramount, and did a screen test. Her beauty and talent impressed the Paramount executives, and they immediately signed her to a contract.
Dorothy’s first two films in 1936, “The Stars Can’t Be Wrong” and “The Jungle Princess,” were where she first wore her trademark sarong. With Herbie and his band touring cross-country, and Dorothy pursuing a career as an actress in California, they were apart much of the time. Their marriage ended in 1939.
During World War II, Dorothy used her fame to help the war effort. She earned the nickname ”bond bombshell” when she toured the country and sold more than $300 million in United States War Bonds. While on the bond tour, she met William Ross Howard III, a successful frozen food businessman. The two married in 1943.
In 1949, she and Bill moved to Baltimore, where the now pregnant Dorothy settled as a housewife. Theater once again became a part of her life, and in 1951 she debuted on Broadway in “Oh! Captain.” She made a comeback to films in 1952 with “The Greatest Show on Earth.” During the 1950s Dorothy also made several guest appearances on television shows such as “The Colgate Comedy Hour” and “Damon Runyon Theatre.” In 1961, she toured with her own nightclub act, and later with the plays “DuBarry Was a Lady” (1963) and “Hello, Dolly!” (1967).
Dorothy and Bill raised three sons, including one from his previous marriage. They were happily married until Bill’s death in 1978. Dorothy continued to appear in small parts in films and on television over the next decade. She passed away in Los Angeles, California on September 22, 1996.
In a career that spanned more than six decades in radio, movies, the theater and as a homemaker, Dorothy demonstrated her ability to succeed in a multitude of professions. Dorothy Lamour will be remembered not only for her unique beauty and charm, but also for the talent and versatility she displayed in every role she undertook.